Former British PM Tony Blair Opens Up About Time in Office

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," September 13, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Tony Blair changed the face of British politics when he became prime minister in 1997 and spent three terms in office. He is now sharing his front row seat of history with the world through his new book, "A Journey: My Political Life."

And I sat down with the former British prime minister earlier today to talk about the past, the present and of course the future. Let's take a look.


HANNITY: Mr. Prime Minister, good to see you. Thank you for being here.


HANNITY: You know, first of all, I love the book. Very detailed. Your observations blunt, honest, straightforward.

BLAIR: Thank you.

HANNITY: Let me start with this. You said something about America that I find interesting. You said America's burden is that it wants to be loved but it knows that it cannot be loved. The leadership will be resented sometimes actively opposed is also however to be expected.

BLAIR: Yes, I mean, I think -- you know, I've obviously worked with different American presidents and seen America kind of close up. And I think the problem for America is that Americans are naturally, you know, outgoing. They're nice people to be with. So --

HANNITY: Some of them.


BLAIR: Most of them, I find. And most people believe it or not would prefer to be liked rather than disliked. The trouble is, it also -- America carries the responsibility for leading the world. And I think in the end, you know, it can be respected. It's got sometimes to be feared. But above all it's got to lead.

HANNITY: One of the more interesting things from my perspective in reading the book is, you know, you talk about three presidents that you've known and worked with here. All three presidents I have known themselves represent in a curious way the facets of American character.

And in the case especially of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, two -- and you go into great detail in the book -- two very different personalities.


HANNITY: Very different perspectives in terms of governing.

BLAIR: Yes, I try to -- in my observations about President Clinton and President Bush. Obviously I worked with them closely. They both became close personal friends. They're completely -- it's no great insight --they're completely different people.


BLAIR: But they've still got that -- you know you see why they won an election and why -- in fact, why they won two terms. I mean -- and they have a -- you know I saw both close up. Bill Clinton particularly over Kosovo which was a really difficult decision he had to take. And then of course with President Bush after September 11th.

And I think the one thing that comes out to me about American presidents -- and I would say the same about President Obama -- is that there is this sense that you have, and I know this sounds an odd thing to say because you would say surely, yes, of course. Politicians should be like that.

But I think they -- all of them had that capacity, in the final analysis they would put the country first. Now you may say, well, of course that's what they're elected to do. But believe me, when you've met many world leaders that's not always the case.

HANNITY: That's not always the case.

You said about Bill Clinton and you have a lot of complimentary things to say about him, although for obvious reasons he's a complicated man and you were there at very important moments during some of the more difficult moments in his presidency.

You say he's an extraordinary mixture of easy-going charm, ferocious intellectual capacity. You say in a curious way the blessing of his times is the disadvantage of his legacy.

BLAIR: Yes, because I think the strange thing for the time President Clinton was president was we had a sort of mini global economic crisis but nothing like the one we came through in 2008.

And we had issues to do with international security. Iraq actually was an issue at the time. Kosovo. But nothing like September 11th. And so in a way, his presidency and his years were years of economic prosperity, a certain amount of tranquility, actually.

And you just kind of wonder, well, how would he have been then with September 11th?

HANNITY: You actually raise that question in the book. You asked out loud. You wondered how he would have responded to the circumstances that George W. Bush had to deal with.

BLAIR: Yes. And that's where I think it's -- it's a really interesting reflection. Because he is somebody who -- very different from President Bush in the sense that he's in one way very much from the intellectual analysis school of politics.

But on the other hand, that that would have been a decision where he would have had to gone this way or that. And I think he would have given good leadership. I believe that.

HANNITY: But you had to make some tough decisions, too.

BLAIR: Yes. I think the thing that's hardest about the world today is the decisions are very difficult, but they are quite binary. You know you go this way or that. There's not a lot of third-way in today's politics.

And I think the single most difficult thing after September 11th, particularly, was -- you know, I had the decision to take as British prime minister. Do we basically see this as an attack on us as much as the U.S.? Or do we say look, that's a problem for the U.S. to look after?

HANNITY: And your answer was, you stood steadfast behind the United States.

BLAIR: Shoulder to shoulder.

HANNITY: Shoulder to shoulder.


HANNITY: And it raises what I think -- what I think is the world's biggest challenge right now which is radical Islam. Isn't there this possibility that it exists with nuclear weapons and radical Islam of holocaust in our lifetime? How real is that?

BLAIR: Well, the threat is real. And I think part of the trouble is for us in the West today, you know, we've got a tendency which is perfectly understandable, but I'm afraid, neither realistic nor sensible, to put our head in the sand about it.

You know I'm out in the Middle East an awful lot. Not just -- I mean I just literally last night I was in Jerusalem. And so I -- and then I was in Palestine. I go around the region a lot.


BLAIR: All over the region. And in the broader world there is a struggle going on. And it is between those who have a concept of Islam that is modern, that embraces the 21st century, that says Islam's problems are ours, we'll deal with them.

You know, and there are good people who think like that and work like that and want to be like that. But then you've got a very, very strong group, far stronger than people think, who basically say we are in fundamental conflict with the West. Our leaders are selling out by dealing with the West. And we need to return to a very fundamentalist, extreme view.

HANNITY: Are you as concerned as I have been about the moderate Islam, those that are -- have more moderate views? I almost find at times their silence has been deafening in terms of speaking out against those hijacking their religion.

I also fear that the numbers of people that buy into radical Islam are far larger than people want to acknowledge. And that makes the threat that much more dire.

BLAIR: It's a really interesting point. You know I think that the number of actual extremists is quite small. But the number of people who buy into the narrative, the storyline, that Islam is essentially a victim of the West, that actually the two are in fundamental conflict, that I'm afraid stretches far deeper.

And the issue really is this, and it's a very hard thing to say this. There are really good, as I say, modernizing strong people who want to stand up within Islam and say we can make the change we need to and embrace the 21st Century. For them to win, they need us to be strong.

HANNITY: You said that in the book.

BLAIR: They don't want us to look as if we are not sure of our own way of life, of what we stand for, of what we believe in.


HANNITY: And we'll have more with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in just a minute including the warning that he gave Princess Diana just before her death.


HANNITY: We continue with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.


HANNITY: In Europe, they seem to be rejecting, you know, the statism if you will. The idea that the state is capable -- look, the National Health Service, rationing of government health care.

You're cutting back America is now moving full forward towards, you know, government-run health care. As you watch this president spend money, accumulate debt, deficits, are you concerned?

BLAIR: Well, first of all, I mean, I have a great respect for President Obama and I don't want to get into your politics.

HANNITY: I'm trying to drag you right in.

BLAIR: I know you are. He's someone I work closely with and have great respect for. I don't want to comment on his economic policy.

HANNITY: I'll use your term about the Keynesian model which you don't think works.

BLAIR: Well, I -- what I do think is this, that we don't live in the same era, and I'm really talking about my country in Europe. We don't -- living in the same era that we did in the 1930s. The fact is that today a majority of people are taxpayers, and yes, you know, you need to have a stimulus to the economy when you have been through a very sharp economic crisis.

You also then need to make sure you've got a deficit reduction plan in place that restores confidence. Now, actually in Europe, Sean, you've got both perspectives is running. I would say on the whole in many parts of Europe, actually the idea of the state is back, it's quite strong, right.

My view is, it is a choice between a small state and a big state. Most people would choose a small state. I happen think in this case there is a third way, which is a state that is strategic and empowering, where your welfare and public service policies are reformed and modernized from the 1940s. But that's a European debate and I don't want to put that in American context.

HANNITY: That's fair enough. You were there at some interesting moments. We'll talk about George Bush in a minute, but for example, you were there at height of the Clinton impeachment crisis for example.

I thought your observations were interesting. Not just about what was going on. Bill Clinton's ability to compartmentalize what was going on. You an interesting observation about that, but also about the relationship, it's some interesting observations about the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton.

BLAIR: Well, I've seen them at close quarters over many years. They are personal friends of mine so some of that (INAUDIBLE).

HANNITY: There's no antipathy here. He's out of office.

BLAIR: I just -- they are people I've got a lot of time for of they've come through tough times. I happened to believe that during his time America was basically --

HANNITY: Prosperous, but you also point out he didn't deal with the challenges or the hand that George Bush was dealt. But you did observe his ability to compartmentalize during that crisis where he would stay focused on issues.


HANNITY: And you also had a meeting you describe with Bill and Hillary Clinton and your conclusion was that there is a deep profound love not many people --

BLAIR: I know not many people do, but I saw them close-up and I think that's, you know, of course it's a strong political partnership. She is now doing work -- I work closely with her on her work in the Middle East.

I think it is founded on something, you know, genuine and profound and actually rather touching when you see them together. And that was the toughest time two people could possibly have together.

HANNITY: I thought some other interesting observations. You had prime minister's questions, which by the way, is extraordinary entertaining from an --

BLAIR: I'm glad you are entertained. It is hell to do I can tell you.

HANNITY: Actually, you described -- you created like an athletic challenge, you would eat a banana before, you get up there, but it created great anxiety for you having to go out there and --

BLAIR: It's great. I used to reckon I lost several pounds each day you got up there. Sometimes Americans here say, "Don't you miss those prime minister's questions?" And I go, "What?"

HANNITY: You also -- you talked a lot about, you warned Princess Diana about the relationship with Dodi Fayed, which I thought was interesting. There was something not right. What did you see in him that you didn't like?

BLAIR: It wasn't -- I didn't know him.

HANNITY: You felt something wasn't right.

BLAIR: I was worried for her and you know, we had a conversation, the content which shall remain private but, I just expressed my concern, my anxiety that this was going to be something she really needs to think about carefully. She was a remarkable and extraordinary person and to be with one of the most magnetic charismatic people I've ever met.

HANNITY: Historic, too. And the queen, I think she was drying and her husband was washing the dishes. You described that.

BLAIR: What you do is every year, as British prime minister, there's a tradition that you're going to spend a weekend with the queen at Balmoral, which is the extraordinary Scottish castle that Prince Albert built for Queen Victoria. When you go out for the barbecue, the royal family will do the cooking and the washing up and you sit there at the table.

HANNITY: There were a lot of revelations in the book. You talk a lot about you and the pressures of the job. A lot of personal things for example, you felt like you were drinking -- relying too much on alcohol, gin and tonic or a shot of whiskey, wine at dinner.

BLAIR: My real drinking friends think it's a pretty pathetic admission, actually.

HANNITY: They might like to hang out with you in the pubs, but --

BLAIR: I think one of the things that is interesting about today's politics is that we do expect to know a lot more about our political leaders. We subject their lives to so much more scrutiny.

I mean, I think back to Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, you know, John F. Kennedy, people here, Lyndon Johnson -- and you think if they were alive today with that scrutiny, what would be going on?

HANNITY: It would be interesting. I would keep me busy.

BLAIR: Yes, it would keep everyone busy. What I've tried to do that for is say, OK, but if you want to know a lot more about a political leader, believe it or not, they are not from Mars. You know, they are human beings and they react in a human way and here's what it feels like.

I've donated the proceeds to this book to the Royal British legion. Therefore I felt, because I was going to do that, I was almost freer to sit down and just say --

HANNITY: Speak the truth.

BLAIR: Yes, yes, just say, look this isn't -- you know, I'm not just here with a book, you know, revealing things. I wanted you to know what it is like to be in that hot seat taking those decisions.

And you know, I saw your American presidents in some of their most troubled moments, certain in my time in office and you know, that is where ordinary human beings are in extraordinary situations and how they react is important to know I think.

HANNITY: What's interesting, and the last question I will have for you here, this was your first political position. I found that pretty interesting. And I will not ask you about your alliance emotionally on your wife, which I think got a lot of press in your country for being a little bit racy.

BLAIR: A little bit racy, yes.

HANNITY: Which is enormously straightforward and honest, which is refreshing.

BLAIR: Well, thank you. Yes, the truth is it was the first job I've ever had. The other thing that is interesting about being prime minister or president is whatever anyone says, nothing prepares you.

HANNITY: Nothing can prepare you for that job?


HANNITY: Mr. Prime minister, thank you for being with us.

BLAIR: Thank you, Sean.


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